Japan's soaring agricultural imports and mounting interest in Cambodian fruits present huge opportunities for local players to take advantage of the Kingdom’s conducive growing conditions for a rich variety of crops and claim a slice of that market, according to Keo Mom, chairwoman of prominent food processing enterprise Ly Ly Food Industry Co Ltd.
The US Department of Agriculture reported that Japan imported $70.2 billion of agricultural products last year – $14.6 billion or nearly 21 per cent of which came from the US – marking a 16.4 per cent rise on 2019 as well as “surpassing record-level agricultural imports of 2011 and 2012”.
Given the generally pleasing quality, tastes and aromas of Cambodian fruits and vegetables, an increase in processing capacity would bring up the potential for exports, especially to the large Japanese market where demand for high-quality processed products is booming, Mom told The Post on April 2, suggesting longan as a contender.
“Going forward, I expect that opportunities to export dried fruit products from Cambodia to Japan will only grow,” she said.
Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces white-fleshed edible fruit of the soapberry family, which also includes lychees and rambutan.
The state-run VietnamPlus news outlet earlier this year noted that, even with a hefty $13.50 per kg price tag, Vietnamese longan sells pretty quickly on the Japanese market, presenting major opportunities for local growers.
Citing Vietnam Fruit and Vegetables Association (VinaFruit) secretary-general Dang Phuc Nguyen, it said that four fresh Vietnamese fruits are eligible to be exported to Japan through official channels: dragon fruit, mango, lychee and longan.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce, in collaboration with the ASEAN-Japan Centre (AJC) on March 31 organised a hybrid-format workshop on Cambodian dried fruits and other agricultural products for the Japanese market.
The event was attended by representatives of the commerce ministry, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and businesspeople from the agro-processing sector, according to a ministry statement.
At the workshop’s opening ceremony, Kao Kosal, director-general of the commerce ministry’s General Department of Trade Promotion, affirmed that the ministry is working to promote the export of Cambodian dried fruits and agricultural products to Japan, the statement noted.
Underpinned by good cooperation between the governments and private sectors of both countries, a slew of Japanese investment projects are currently underway in Cambodia, in fields such as auto parts, agro-industrial equipment, food processing, hotels and tourism, hospitals, and retail, he said.
“This workshop aims to share knowledge and experience and boost exports of Cambodian dried fruits and agricultural products to Japan, as part of the post-pandemic economic recovery,” Kosal was quoted as saying.
At the closing ceremony, AJC secretary-general Kunihiko Hirabayashi reflected on the richness of Cambodia’s agricultural landscape, saying that he senses enormous potential for mangos, cashews and pepper in particular due to their “excellent tastes and unique aromas”.
Cambodia has developed rapidly in the textile, construction and tourism fields, and especially agriculture, with a focus on sustainability, prosperity, health, safety and quality, he said, according to the statement.
Provisional Customs (GDCE) statistics indicated that Japan was Cambodia’s sixth largest trading partner in 2022, with the two-way merchandise trade amounting to $1.948 billion, up 12.33 per cent over 2021, but still down 3.51 per cent from the record $2.019 billion logged in 2019.
Cambodia’s exports to and imports from Japan came in at $1.173 billion and $774.989 million, respectively, up 7.26 per cent and 21.0 per cent year-on-year, narrowing the Kingdom’s trade surplus with the archipelago nation by 12.15 per cent to $398.041 million versus $453.116 million in 2021.
Japan was Cambodia’s fourth largest export destination – after the US, Vietnam and mainland China – and eighth largest import source, following mainland China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and Indonesia.